Meet

Liesl Pfeffer

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am from Brisbane, Australia, and I’ve lived in Brooklyn for the past four years.
Is there anywhere in Brooklyn around you studio that you get away to?
My studio is at the intersection of Morgan and Grand Avenues in Bushwick, which is perfect for me in terms of location but sadly not really serviced by cafes or lunch spots. I usually bring food to the studio or cycle somewhere to pick up something quick, like the little taqueria at Los Hermanos tortilla factory on Starr Street. I also love the ramen at Shinobi Ramen on Grattan Street for dinner with a good book after a studio day. There’s also loads of galleries in the area; some of my favorites are Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Transmitter, NURTUREart, OUTLET, 99c Plus and Honey Ramka.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
I try to arrive by 10 am and stay until 7 pm or later. I really dislike taking my laptop to the studio because it can be a distraction, so sometimes I will be a bit late because I had to get some emailing out of the way from home in the morning. My studio is only a five minute bike ride from my apartment, and once I am there I will settle in with a tea or coffee from the gas station downstairs. Then I will get my materials in order, if I am starting something new, or pick up where I left the day before if I am working on something ongoing. I will usually have a few different things that I am working on, and will sometimes change between projects throughout the day. If I am planning a collage, I’ll spend a few days drawing before I start cutting up and assembling photographs, and I’ll break up that sketching time with some weaving or watercolor painting. The weavings I make are pretty laborious so I tend to only work on them for a couple of hours per day.
Slant
I don’t plan what photograph will be used in which part of a collage, or go out shooting photographs to be used in specific pieces, I just sort through my piles of photographs until I find the image that feels right. — Liesl Pfeffer
No laptop? Do you listen to music?
Yes! I usually alternate between listening to music, audiobooks and podcasts on my phone. My favorite audio book from the past few months is Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band” and my favorite podcast is Welcome to Nightvale. My favorite new album is Shannon and the Clams’ “Gone by the Dawn”.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
It’s crucial! Working with collage means that I am usually combining disparate elements, and for me the unexpectedly harmonious juxtapositions of materials are the most satisfying aspect of creating images this way. I don’t plan what photograph will be used in which part of a collage, or go out shooting photographs to be used in specific pieces, I just sort through my piles of photographs until I find the image that feels right.
Over how many years have you accumulated the pile? Is it an especially big pile?
I have four years’ worth of photographs here in the US, everything older is back in Australia. So maybe a thousand photos or so here in New York. Weirdly, although that sounds like a lot, the pile isn’t that big.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have been incorporating weaving into my practice since 2011, usually making a few weavings per year, sometimes to accompany my collages or wall paintings in exhibitions, and sometimes as separate bodies of work. I enjoy their three-dimensionality and tactility, as well as the slow, meditative process of their creation. This venturing into the three dimensional is something I want to pursue further in my work in the future.
What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?
My collages, or the photographs from which they are made, usually depict the natural world in some form or other. Plants, trees, skies, clouds, landscapes. But the concepts usually fluctuate around questions such as: what can a photograph be? How does it change if you cut it up and reassemble it, draw on it, paint on it? How do you read a collage when it is made from multiple photographs taken in different places at different times, different years?
Do you have any of your own answers to those questions?
Well, to think about it broadly, a photograph can be all kinds of things, and my favorite idea is that it doesn’t need to be representational or lens-based. Some of my favorite photographs by other artists aren’t using cameras at all, and they aren’t bothered at all with showing you “what was there”.
Slant
My collages, or the photographs from which they are made, usually depict the natural world in some form or other. Plants, trees, skies, clouds, landscapes. But the concepts usually fluctuate around questions such as: what can a photograph be? How does it change if you cut it up and reassemble it, draw on it, paint on it? How do you read a collage when it is made from multiple photographs taken in different places at different times, different years? — Liesl Pfeffer
Have you always worked with photography and collage?
I always worked with photography, but I began combining my use of it with collage after I graduated from art school. My art practice had developed within the darkroom, making cameraless color prints with handmade negatives, and I was (and still am) obsessed with process and materials. Outside of the academic environment, and therefore without a darkroom to use, I wanted to continue to experiment with what a photograph can be, and how I could manipulate the surface and structure of the photograph, so collage felt like a natural next step.
Do you find that your location strongly influences the direction of your work?
Yes, definitely. All of my collage work in the past few years has been specifically focused on constructing representations of the natural and built environment of the United States, for example the domestic architectural styles that I have been documenting in the Dwellings series, or the desert and ocean plant life in the Field Guide series. I also have been making weavings and collages of some of my favorite tropes of American youth culture such as high school yearbook photos, Halloween costumes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and cheerleaders’ pom poms.
What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?
I collect field guides and encyclopedias because they are great sources of images of plants and rocks and animals, but lately I have been thinking it is the photography within the books that I am really drawn to, especially if the book has studio photography from pre-1980. Studio shots from books about interior decorating with plants from the 1960s-70s are a current obsession.
What is it about the 1960s-70s studio photography that draws you in?
I think the reproduction of color in these photographs is very beautiful and rich, lots of solid primary-color backgrounds and floral or geometric patterns. There’s something I find endlessly charming in the interior design of that era, probably from growing up in the 80s and 90s. I have a strong sense of nostalgia for that time just before I was born. I also love living rooms where the most technologically advanced equipment is a turntable, still do.
Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist? Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
Patti Smith is my hero, as a musician, visual artist and writer. Her ability to move between and be accomplished at so many different pursuits is endlessly inspiring, as is her bravery and strength. She is also incredibly funny, which I think may be less well-known, and just as important to me.

Speaking of funny: David Shrigley. One of my all time favourite artists who is an influence when it comes to color, shape, and being not so serious.

Shrigley is hilarious - any favorites?
Right? His work is minimal and funny and delightful and dark. His recent show at Anton Kern Gallery in New York was amazing - huge framed drawings on paper in a grid from floor to ceiling on three walls and a really hilarious animated video. I also like his book “How are you feeling?”, which I bought for a friend who studies brains for a living.

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